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Last Shots: Guys stepping up, a late arrival, and carrying the effort forward

MINNEAPOLIS – Twenty-one quick thoughts for Jarrett Culver’s career-high 21 points in Minnesota’s 122-115 overtime win over Brooklyn on Monday night at Target Center.

1. One of the good things about a team in rebuild is the opportunities that different guys can receive from time to time. The Wolves are a team hoping that better days are ahead – and there’s reason to believe that’s true – but right now, things haven’t been great.

2. Even in tough times, there are going to be good nights for certain individuals and the team as a whole. Monday night against the Nets was one of those nights, for both individuals and the team as a whole. There are a number of different stories that deserve to be highlighted from the win. But the overarching takeaway was the heart the Wolves played with on a night without Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Noah Vonleh, Treveon Graham, and Jake Layman. It would have been easy for a team that had lost 12 of its last 13 games to mail it in against a playoff-caliber team. Instead, the opposite happened.

3. “I thought that was a heart game,” head coach Ryan Saunders said after the game. “Our guys knew there were going to be opportunities tonight and guys took advantage of them. I think there were a number of things that you could point to that have to make you feel good.”

4. Kelan Martin played in his fourth game in five days, Naz Reid learned, while in Iowa, that he would be playing for the Wolves on Monday night around 3 p.m., Jarrett Culver had one of the best nights of his career, Gorgui Deing had his best night of the year, Keita Bates-Diop helped off the bench, and Shabazz Napier rebounded from a poor showing on Saturday night.

5. All of that led to the team’s first win inside Target Center in well over a month. Simply put, the Wolves needed a night like this. Sure, they’d prefer to have all of the unavailable in the lineup. There’s no question that they each add something that can be hard to replace, but seeing the reserves step up in the fashion that they did can be a huge confidence booster to a group that maybe hadn’t been playing with enough of it lately.

6. “Everybody wants to win,” Dieng said after his 11 points and 20 rebounds. “We’re going to look at wins and losses at the end of the day, but it’s a job. If you come in, you can play your hardest and lose the game, so I think sometimes you lose the game and learn from it. There are games we lost bad, but then there’s been some games that we deserve to win. Whatever happens in those situations, we’re just going to keep working and take this game seriously, because I know it’s a job.”

7. Wins and losses matter, but as the Wolves have reminded a few times, they’re a process over results-oriented group. Monday night was the best of both for them.

8. Dieng made the winning plays the Wolves needed down the stretch. He saved a 3-pointer Culver sent that only drew air back into play, where Culver was to retrieve it and draw a foul before knocking down a pair of free throws and then knocked down a go-ahead 3-pointer himself with less than 40 seconds left in regulation. The Wolves definitely don’t have this victory without his effort.

9. It’s also been no secret that Culver hasn’t had the start to his career that many hoped for. He’s struggled out of the gate, especially on the offensive end. Monday night was a step in the right direction, and possibly the best night of his career thus far.

10. Culver set career highs in points, shot attempts, and minutes played against the Nets. He wasn’t incredibly efficient offensively, but he shot the ball with more confidence than he’s appeared to in previous games. More importantly, he knocked down a pair of free throws in clutch time that the Wolves desperately needed. For someone shooting 42% from the charity stripe prior to Monday’s game, that can be a big confidence booster.

11. “I think there’s been more made from the outside then it is with us internally on confidence. Because I said it the other day, we’re gonna do the same thing: we’re gonna turn the music up, we’re gonna practice, shoot the ball, plan on making shots the next day. And that’s how we want to look at things,” Saunders said. “Maybe the confidence level isn’t to where people want it to be in some guys but I don’t think these guys necessarily waver in their belief in each other, in their belief in the group. Jarrett did a good job; he made some big plays down the stretch tonight.”

12. That confidence needs to be an every night thing for Culver, and others on the roster, to succeed. There are always going to be some rough nights, even when the rest of the roster returns for the Wolves, but having the confidence to get through them makes the future brighter than the present.

13. Not knowing whether or not court time is going to happen is always something that can be difficult for NBA players. Being in and out of the rotation is a challenge for some players, and that’s an understandable thing. That’s what makes Reid’s night for the Wolves all the more impressive.

14. When he woke up on Monday morning he was in Iowa. If he had plans on Monday night, he had to cancel them around 3 p.m. when he found out he would be playing for the Wolves in Minnesota.

15. “I saw him when he was walking in the building. I was coming out of chapel and I chased him down the hall,” Saunders said. “I gave him a pat on the back and I said, ‘shoot that thing tonight, big fella.’ That’s what he can do. He’s a guy that can score inside, he can score outside, and he did.”

16. Reid scored 13 points off the bench in his first meaningful NBA action. He launched 16 total shots in just under 20 minutes. It’s no crazy stat line by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s something the Wolves needed. Being able to get 20 minutes out of a player that woke up without the idea of playing in an NBA game that night is a testament to both the player and the organization.

17. Lucky for Reid, the late call and arrival didn’t mess up too much for him.

18. “My gameday routine is just make the last shot I’m taking in warmups. I was able to do that,” Reid said. “But like I said before, I just had a boost of confidence. My teammates were behind me. Coaches were behind me and I just did everything I could do.”

19. Reid, Dieng, Culver, and everyone else that saw minutes on Monday night played hard, which is all that can be asked of them. They know they’re not stars at the moment, but they know the stars do exist on this team. This type of effort is something that needs to carry over when Towns, Wiggins, and the rest of the injury-riddled roster returns to the floor.

20. “We’re sending them a message,” Dieng said. “Hopefully, they can see how hard we play, and when they get back, they can just jump on the train. If you have your top players, they see how hard we play when we’re limited, and when they come back, they should do even better, because they’re talented. We don’t have the talent they have. They’re way talented, and they’re better basketball players. So hopefully, when they get back, they can give us the same energy.”

21. The Wolves are back in action on Wednesday in Milwaukee against the Bucks. Talk to you from Fiserv Forum.


Previous Story In the month of December the Wolves have been two different teams, but the results have been the same Next Story Last Shots: Hanging tough against one of the NBA’s best and Culver’s poster creation